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Global Future of the Environment

Global Future of the Environment

September 12, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

Feeling Under the Weather? The Impact of Climate on Health and Our Economy

Laura Anderko

“When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.” ~David Orr

No person, community, or country is immune to the health impacts of climate change.

Until fairly recently, the impact of climate change on health was not a major focus in the scientific community. However, the evidence is mounting that life-threatening consequences are arising from the climate changes that we are experiencing at an accelerating rate. The scale of health risks is on par with the enormity of climate change and can vary considerably based on geographic region. For example, as the earth warms, we are experiencing seasonal changes with earlier springs and later fall frosts leading to increased allergies in the Midwest region of the U.S. from an extended pollen season. In the southeast, this warming has led to an expansion in the ranges of mosquitoes carrying dengue, West Nile, and malaria.[1]

Several high profile reports have underscored the importance of climate changes on health. The World Health Organization[2] predicts that climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 primarily from malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria, and heat stress.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[3] projects substantial increases in “ill-health” resulting from climate change including:
  • Risk of injury, disease, and death from intense heat waves and wildfires
  • Reduction in food production with risk of under-nutrition 
  • Reduction in work production 
  • Food-borne diseases 
  • Water-borne diseases 
  • Vector-borne diseases
We are also learning that climate changes such as extreme weather events such as extreme heat are leading to a range of mental health issues including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, child abuse, and domestic violence. [4-5]Climate change will continue to have the greatest impact on vulnerable groups such as the poor, racially and ethnically diverse, children, pregnant women, persons with disabilities, those with chronic medical conditions and indigenous communities.[6] Greater impact will be experienced in areas with fragile health infrastructures that do not have the capacity to adapt quickly or broadly to climate changes and associated health impacts, and to prepare for impending emergencies.[2]

Limited but emerging data indicate that health, social and economic costs of climate change are vast, with one study estimating health costs of six climate-related events at approximately $14 billion, which is consistent with costs from other weather and climate related disasters.[7-8]

The U.S. EPA[9] estimates that implementation of the Clean Power Plan will lead to significant public health benefits from a reduction in premature deaths, asthma attacks in children, heart attacks, hospital admissions, and missed school and work days with benefits worth an estimated $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030. 

Climate change is ultimately about health. It is imperative that climate-related health impacts are seriously considered as we continue to adapt to the effects of climate change, evaluate the overall economic losses as a result of health impacts, and strive to mitigate further damage.

Dr. Laura Anderko, Ph.D. RN holds the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies and serves as director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment (Region 3’s Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit). Dr. Anderko was honored by the White House for her work in climate change and public health. 

References 
1. USGCRP, 2016: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, http://dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0R49NQX
2. WHO, 2014. Quantitative risk assessment of the effects of climate change on selected causes of death, 2030s and 2050s. Geneva: World Health Organization.
3. Field, C.B., Barros, V., Dokken, D.J. et al., 2014. Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Volume I: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
4. Anderson, C.A. & DeLisi, M. 2011. Implications of Global Climate Change for violence in developed and developing countries in Forgas, Kruglanski, & Williams (Eds.) The Psychology of Social Conflict & Aggression. New York: Psychology Press. Available at: https://public.psych.iastate.edu/caa/abstracts/2010-2014/11ADproofs.pdf. 5. Mares, D.M. & Moffett, K.W., 2016. Climate change and interpersonal violence: a “global” estimate and regional inequities, Climatic Change 135: 297. doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1566-0
6. U.S. EPA, 2016. Climate Impacts on Human Health. Available at: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts/health.html.
7. Knowlton K. et al, 2011. Health costs of six climate-related events in the United States, 2002-2009. Health Affairs, 30(11) p. 2167-2176.
8. Smith, A.B. & Katz, R. 2013. US billion-dollar weather and climate disasters: data sources, trends, accuracy and biases. Nat. Hazards, 67(2), 387–410.
9. U.S. EPA, 2016. Fact Sheet: Overview of the Clean Power Plan: Cutting Carbon Pollution from Power Plants. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-overview-clean-power-plan

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